A protester in Suweida Province, southern Syria, with a poster of Bashar al-Assad in the background

Protesters have turned out on the streets in regime-held Suweida Province in southwest Syria, demonstrating over economic conditions and corruption.

Video showed dozens of demonstrators in the mainly-Druze area. Young men marched through a market in Suweida city towards the municipality building, chanting slogans such as “Leave now, Bashar [al-Assad]” and “The people want the fall of the regime”.

The crowd also challenged the essential support for the Assad regime from Moscow and Tehran: “Syria is free, out with Russia…out with Iran”.

The Syrian pound is in free fall, tumbling from about 500:1 v. the US dollar last autumn to 2,900:1 on Monday. At the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, the pound was at 47:1.

The Assad regime has been unable to provide basic services, let alone reconstruction, in an economy which has lost 75% of its GDP. The pre-conflict average income of 10,000 Syrian pounds per month, worth around $500 in 2011, is now about $25. Shortages of food, petrol, cooking gas, and other basic goods are widespread. Electricity blackouts are common.

The UN said this month that 9.3 million Syrians, more than half the population, are “food insecure”. Another 2.2 million are on the brink of joining them.

The crisis has been compounded by problems in Lebanon’s banking system, where many Syrian individuals and companies hold their accounts. Corruption and monopoly in a system, dominated by the Assad family and friends, has been highlighted by a feud between the regime and Assad’s cousin, the billionaire tycoon Rami Makhlouf.

While the mainly-Druze populace of the Suweida area did not join the uprising, there has been tension between residents and the regime throughout the 111-month conflict. Local leaders and the populace have opposed forced conscription of men into pro-Assad forces.

Another video of Sunday’s demonstration:

Protests also broke out in Daraa Province in southern Syria, the original site of the 2011 uprising, last month. Demonstrators challenged the threat of military action by the regime, amid an insurgency after a Russian-enabled offensive reoccupied the area in summer 2018.

On Sunday, there was a demonstration in the town of Tafas, where the regime has threatened a military crackdown after a series of assassinations and attacks on pro-Assad officials and security forces.

See also Syria Daily, May 16: Demonstrations in Daraa